I think one of the de rigueur components of being a LEGEND is to have a loyal following. Curtis Harrington definitely fits into that category. A sort of underground legend that came above ground to make movies, he represents the finest that absurdly eerie minds can conjure up. A filmmaker, he made quite a “splash” with his debut movie, Night Tide. He also managed to scare the shit out of me quite badly with his little ditty entitled Games. A relentlessly, slowly paced mind-blower, this film starred Katherine Ross, James Caan, and the eternally alluring Simone Signoret.
His first film, Night Tide, was so surreally sublime that it was like being perennially trapped inside a wave machine on display in a Wunderkammer. The mood struck, you didn’t watch as much as undulate. Very strangely hypnotic, it was in no small measure attributable to Harrington and his mastery of all things esoteric. And what would the sea be without “casting”? His hook penetrating the palates of some pretty great talent, it managed to snag Dennis Hopper and the enigmatic, Marjorie Cameron.
While Curtis Harrington eschewed that he was involved in the Black Arts except on an “intellectual level,” my personal opinion is that he doth protested too much. The people surrounding him and that he chose to herd with were much too much up to their eyeballs in mumbo jumbo for it to be coincidental. Rather a cabal, his association with Ms. Cameron and Mr. Kenneth Anger would seem to settle the question once and for all.
Ms. Cameron was the amour of Jack Parsons, a rocket scientist who headed California’s Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). An abominable magical love cult that was presided over by Mr. Crowley, Mr. Parsons diligently performed rituals called “Babylon Working” in order to produce a “magickal child” or “Moonchild.” A succession of the Aeon or Horus, the offspring would so powerful, the likes of which had never been seen on earth. Doing all he could on his own, he needed an elemental to finish his diabolical experimentation. That is where Ms. Cameron came in. Appearing at his house one day, she was dubbed “The Scarlet Woman.” Her red hair and slanted green eyes were what the doctor, well, mad scientist, had ordered, and apparently, what Curtis Harrington needed to make his film.
Kenneth Anger was another dabbler in the occult. A filmmaker with forty films to his credit, he worked on such cult classics as Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954), Scorpio Rising (1964), Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969), and Lucifer Rising. Friends with many celebrities, Mick Jagger, Tennessee Williams, Jimmy Page, Anton LeVay were included in his stable of acquaintances. Another notable addition to his congerie was Bobby Beausoleil. Actor, musician, porn star, you might remember him for his greatest role, that of Manson family member. Convicted of the murder of Gary Hinman, the interaction between these various stratas of societal layering again leads me to believe that a dark undercurrent ran beneath the cries of “intellectual curiosity.”
Night Tide was a story about sailor, Johnny Drake. On leave from the Navy, he becomes enamored with a girl, Mora, that works as a mermaid in a seaside attraction. The marina run by Captain Murdock, Johnny doesn’t seem to care that her previous lovers have died mysteriously. What is it about love, eh? Living in a hotel room over a merry-go-round, Mora is convinced that she is a descendent of the “Sirens.” In case you’re not familiar with the term, Sirens are sea creatures that lure sailors to their deaths. I was under the mistaken impression that they were manatees, but what the hell do I know about these anomalies? It took me months to straighten out the difference between Hera and Hecate and now you introduce sea creatures?!! Back to the story, in between Mora’s delusions and Jack having his nose opened, a woman (played by Marjorie Cameron) weaves her bad self into the tale by appearing at the strangest times. Mora is certain that this temptress is the leader of this cult of bloodthirsty mermaids. She’s also sure that she’s driving her to murder.
I would give it twenty stars out of ten, but then I love experimental filmmaking and this is that. Like a rich tapestry being spun around you, its pacing and atmosphere is straight out of a Gothic novel. The trailer below will give you a sampling.
As for opening this can of Mermaidkist tuna (or is it sardines?), there will be more about Curtis Harrington, film maudits, Kenneth Anger, Charles Manson and the Zodiac Killings in subsequent blogs. Part theory, part conspiracy, and all sea urchin, we will cover all aspects of what makes a LEGEND.